How To Start Film Photography For £27

One of the major reasons people are afraid to explore film photography is the perceived expense.

They’re concerned that to even get set up you need to spend hundreds of pounds on a capable camera and lens, and that’s before you even think about buying and processing film.

This is largely a myth, and this post is to show you how to get set up and started with some super capable kit for less than £30.

First, the camera. 

Whilst I love Pentax and Contax bodies, if I was starting out with film again, based on the knowledge I’ve gained over the last four years and 100+ cameras, I’d buy a Canon EOS.

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Canon EOS 300V, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 C/Y lens

No, they’re not the most glamorous or exciting to look at, nor do they have the luxury of the aforementioned Contax, or a huge bright viewfinder like a Minolta X-700.

But here’s a list of reasons why a humble EOS makes more sense than anything else. 

  1. Affordable. My first EOS, a 500, I bought for 99p plus a couple pounds postage. The 300V above, one of the last models made around 2002, was around £15.
  2. Plentiful. I just searched EOS in the film cameras category on eBay UK, from UK sellers, under £20 and found over 300 results. Obviously some models are better spec’d than others. I really like the super cheap 500. There are currently 35 of these for sale under £10.
  3. Small, light, compact. The advantage of a plastic (though pretty robust feeling) build is light weight. The EOS bodies are small too, especially examples like the 300V above. Cleverly though, they don’t feel cramped to hold, with a good sized ergonomically contoured handle.
  4. Adaptable. EOS are the compatibly kings, with simple adapters available for any number of other vintage lenses. These typically cost £5-10 each. This means you can have one EOS body and the pick of lenses from Zeiss, Asahi/Pentax, Minolta, Olympus, Yashica and many more, just by using a different adapter.
  5. Ease of use. The EOS bodies are easy to handle and easy to use, especially if you’re coming from digital cameras. Most have a similar mode dial, and later ones like the 300V have an LCD display on the back to show the major settings. Film loading and ISO setting is all automated. You can pick up an EOS and starting shooting in minutes, yet still have a depth of options you can explore as you become more experienced and adventurous.
  6. Features. The EOS 300v has an ISO range from 6 to 6400, shutter speeds from 30s down to 1/2000s, +/-2 exposure compensation and excellent metering. Pretty much all the options you’ll ever need. If you don’t know or care what most of this means, just note point 5 above – they’re easy to just pick up and use!
  7. Forward compatibility. If you invest in a film EOS, an adapter or two and a handful of lenses, at a later date you can get a digital EOS SLR and all the lenses and adapters will fit straight on. It’s the same mount. So with two EOS bodies – one film, one digital – and a few adapters and lenses, you you can have a tremendous range of shooting options at your disposal. But let’s get back to this 35 film set up.
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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So we have our bargain body. Next, the lens. 

I would suggest starting with a 50mm lens. On the whole, prime (ie non zoom) lenses tend to give better quality images than zooms. You could go for an AutoFocus (AF) lens in the native Canon EF mount that the EOS cameras use. But I would go for a more vintage option, via one of the aforementioned adapters, which are cheaper, much more satisfying to hold and use, and more fun.

There’s little to choose between the 50mm lenses of the major brands.

And as mentioned above, the EOS bodies are hugely adaptable. Personally I’ve settled on M42 and C/Y (Contax/Yashica) mounts.

In M42 you have a vast range of fantastic quality lenses available, such as the Asahi Takumars, Helios 44 series, Fujinons, Yashicas and Pentacons. Any of these can be had for around £20.

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Pentax MG, Yashica Yashinon-DS 50mm f/2 M42 lens, FujiColor C200 expired film

I paid £7 for my Helios 44-2 and have had excellent Pentacon 50/1.8s for less than £10. Yashicas can be brilliant buys too, again less than £10, like the one I used to shoot the photograph above.

A Takumar 55/2 can be bought for £15 – many turn their nose up at the f/2 version in favour of the f/1.8, but the truth is they are the same lens, just with the max aperture slightly disabled on the f/2. I’ve had both and can’t tell the difference in the final image.

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Pentax MG, Pentacon Auto 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

In C/Y mount the Yashica ML range are a very good buy.

Again most go for the faster lenses, the 50/1.4 (as pictured on the Canon EOS 300V in the first image above), or the 50/1.7. They’re still cheap (I paid about £30 for my 50/1.4, and a shade over £20 for a 50/1.7) but the bargain of the range is again the f/2. Performance is near identical to the other two, and the very common 50/2 can be had for less than £20, even less than £15.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Fuji Superia 200 expired film

The Pentax K mount also offer a fantastic range, and the Pentax-M 50/1.7 or 50/2 won’t disappoint. Also very impressive in this mount are the Auto Chinon 50/1.7 and Rikenon 50/2.

Minolta made some very fine lenses in their day too.

If you want a luxurious, weighty feel, go for an older 50, like an MC Rokkor-PF – they’re smoother than virtually all other vintage lenses I’ve used, bar except the Takumars.

If you want comparable performance but in a smaller, lighter package, try one of the cracking later era Minolta MD 50/1.7s. I got one a few months back attached to a Minolta X-300, both fully working, for £15.

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Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So to recap our (lack of) spending so far.

At the cheapest end, a Canon EOS body is available from around £5, and something like an M42 or Minolta or C/Y to EOS adapter start at around £7. If you’re patient, you’ll find an M42 Yashica Yashinon 50/2, C/Y mount Yashica ML 50/2 or Minolta MD 50/1.7 for £15.

This takes your total to £27.

If you want a slightly later body, say a 300V or 300X (though the 500 is stunning value), you might need to spend £15 or £20.

If you want a faster, more sought after lens, like a Pentax-M 50/1.7 or Takumar 55/1.8, you might need to invest £25.

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Pentax MZ-5N, Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The choice is yours, depending on your budget and interest.

This post is primarily about getting you set up with some quality, highly usable and enjoyable kit to shoot film with, so I don’t want to go into depth about film and processing.

I would point out though that a cheap and very capable film over here in the UK is AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, available for £1 a roll from Poundland.

Expired film can also be very cheap, and give fantastic results.

I get my film processed and scanned to CD (no prints) either at Asda for about £3.50 a roll, or at my photo store up the road which is around £4.50-5 a roll. Having three or four rolls processed at the same time and burned to the same CD saves a few pounds.

It’s not as cheap as digital per shot, but with film, as I hope I’ve shown here, getting set up can be very cheap indeed – under £30.

After that, with a modest budget of £20 a month you can shoot a film a week. Or for £10, one a fortnight.

Which, for virtually all of us, is still a very affordable, and infinitely pleasurable hobby indeed.

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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

If you have any questions, or any tips of your own, please join the conversation in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

 

Sugar Rush (Why This Big Kid Has Such A Sweet Tooth For Expired Film)

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Thank you Mr Postman!

One of the delights of film photography is the range of film emulsions available.

With brand new film there’s still enough of a range available to suit every need for an enthusiastic amateur like me, from the very cheap yet surprisingly versatile and impressive AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 upwards.

But if you’re prepared to delve into film’s (recent) history a little, the number of emulsions at your disposal multiplies many times over. 

I love shooting expired film, and have had great success doing so.

Aside from the sometimes unpredictable outcomes (in a good way), being able to try film that’s no longer made is both exciting and refreshing, yet somehow nostalgic and slightly melancholy all at once.

Added to this, the physical, tactile aspect of the film is hugely appealing.

Much like CDs with their artwork and inlay cards (and records before them) added another layer of creativity and interest to the music itself in the past, compared with the uniform anonymity of a digital mp3 file, film in its bright and varied packaging makes it feel so much more special to see and hold in the lead up (the photographic foreplay before the actual picture taking, if you will) than slipping a tiny black SD card into your digital camera.

The latest batch of expired film I’ve picked up is pictured above. 

The Kodak Colour Plus 200 is an excellent alternative to AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, and in my experience gives very pleasing results even up to a decade or so expired.

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Ricoh FF-3D AF Super plus Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film
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Contax 167MT with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

Jessops Diamond Everyday 400 I’ve used before and is rebranded Kodak. The slightly muted tones are appealing for certain subjects and moods.

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Pentax Spotmatic F with Asahi Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Jessops Diamond Everyday 400 expired film

Incidentally, the far more common ISO200 version of Jessops Diamond is even better, being repackaged Agfacolor XRG200. It can create some lovely rich tones and textures.

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Contax 159MM with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Jessops Diamond Everyday 200 expired film
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Contax 159MM with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Jessops Diamond Everyday 200 expired film

Truprint FG+ 200 has become one of my very favourite expired films, and it was no surprise to me to find it’s rebranded Ferrania FG+ 200. The similar Ferrania Solaris I’ve shot dozens of rolls with and has been just as good, and very similar in colours.

The FG+, depending on how expired, can give some lovely autumnal, amber tones.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i with Tokina SD 28-70mm lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film
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Minolta X-700 with Minolta MD 28mm f/2.8 lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

When it’s a little fresher, you get just as special results, with the kind of richness and depth of colour that is so appealing about film photography.

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Contax 167MT with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film
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Contax 167MT with Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

The Konica VX100, Agfa Vista 200 (the original German emulsion from Agfa, not the AgfaPhoto version that is rebranded Japanese FujiColor C200) and Agfa Ultra Color 100 are all new to me, so I look forward to seeing what results they can bring too.

All in all, a very appetising package, and being ever frugal, to me great value, working out at just £1.02 per film (another appeal of expired film, especially when found in mixed batched like this).

The phrase “feeling like a kid in a sweet shop” is over used, but with me and expired film, it’s exactly how I feel…

How do you feel about picking up expired film like this? What about the physical feel and look of those tiny coloured boxes and canisters?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

New Experimental Vistas – Black & White

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Fuji DL-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

A little while back I wrote about experimenting with AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 at different exposures.

Since then, I’ve been trying Vista Plus as a black and white film.

First, some background as to why – 

  1. Cheap film. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 is the cheapest film available – £1 a roll at Poundland. I have plenty stocked in my freezer. When film is this affordable, it encourages me to experiment with it more. As stocks of other film I have dwindle, it’s likely I’ll be shooting Vista Plus more and more.
  2. Cheap processing. Colour Negative (C41) processing is also currently affordable and readily available. My nearest Asda – around 9 miles away – has a Fuji minilab and they process my film and scan to CD. I’m more than happy with the standard for my uses.

    I have four films processed at once, and scanned to the same CD. This works out at £3 per film.

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    Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w 
  3. Expense of pure black and white. Conversely, black and white (b/w) film is far more expensive to buy and process.The cheapest black and white film is probably something like Fomapan, which is about £3 a roll if you buy in bulk.

    To have it developed I either have to drive much further to a lab, or send via mail order. Either way, it’s about £10 per film, plus postage/fuel/parking costs.

    So if I shot and processed four rolls at a time, it would cost a minimum of £12 for the film plus around £45 for processing, a total of £57. Gulp. Which is £14+ per film. Being a cheapskate, currently, I can’t justify this cost per roll of film.

  4. CN b/w isn’t working. I have in the past shot a fair few rolls of the CN b/w film that can be processed as Colour Negative (C41) – Kodak BW400CN, Fuji Neopan 400CN and Ilford XP2 Super. There are three reasons I’ve stopped doing this.

    First, the film itself costs more than “pure” b/w film, at around £5+ a roll.

    Second, although the processing is cheap, you end up with images with a colour cast – either green, purple, brown or somewhere in between. I then end up desaturating these to get just b/w images. I realised if I was going through this step anyway, why not use a cheaper colour film?

    Third, the results, whilst good enough, are not sufficiently impressive to use this film over colour negative film desaturated to b/w.

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Fuji DL-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

We’ve talked about the whys then – largely the affordability of this method compared with using pure b/w film.

Let’s move on to how I shoot colour negative film as b/w, and the associated mindset.

It’s easier here to explain what I don’t do. I don’t load a roll of Vista Plus colour film, then walking around shooting it as colour film, then once it’s processed, converting the images to b/w, just to see if any of them might just look better in b/w than colour.

For me, shooting colour and shooting black and white have different mindsets. If you’re shooting black and white, you need to commit to that mindset the moment you load the film.

Whilst there are aspects common to both – composition, subject matter, textures and so on – with colour film I’m looking for interesting, vibrant colour. I’m curious about how this colour will be rendered in the final image with this particular camera, lens and film combination.

This is why I photograph a lot of red post boxes and telephone boxes – they’re often a very vibrant pleasing red!

With a b/w mindset, I’m looking for for shapes, contrasts, shadows and more.

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Fuji DL-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

With a film camera of course it doesn’t matter what film is in the camera, you can choose a colour or b/w mindset when you’re shooting it, unlike a digital camera where you might switch the camera itself to a b/w mode to aid shooting.

I much prefer trying to translate the colour world around me into b/w in my head – the reward when it works is much greater than having let the camera visualise for you. 

(I confess that back in 2011 before I’d shot my first roll of film, I used a fantastic little Nikon Coolpix for all of my photography. It has a high contrast monochrome mode, which I used extensively.

Whilst I don’t do this with digital cameras now, with hindsight I’m sure the thousands of photographs I shot with Coolpix on its b/w mode helped me see the different kind of qualities of a composition that work better in b/w.)

So, when I load a roll of Vista Plus intending to shoot b/w, I just try to have that outlook and mindset as I find and capture photographs.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Finally, how I turn images shot with colour film into black and white.

Obviously the CD I get from the lab has all the images in colour, it’s a colour film. I simple open the whole batch, and in Preview on my MacBook choose Tools > Adjust Colour and slide the saturation right down to the b/w end, then save. I then browse through the images in my usual way and decide which I might want to share.

I have no idea whether there’s a better way of doing this with Photoshop, Lightroom, or anything else, and at this point don’t much care.

I just want a simple process to extract the colour from the images, and this works.

My workflow for processing film photographs is – insert CD, copy and paste all the images to an “unposted” folder on my desktop, then using the original negatives and my notes on which film I shot with which camera and where, put the images into subfolders, eg “2016_10_01 OlympusMju1 AgfaPhotoVistaPlus200 as b/w”.

Again, I’m sure there are ways to use Lightroom for example to have a highly polished workflow, but I just like to keep it simple, and this works. Plus the less time I can spend post processing, the better!

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Fuji Dl-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

 

So how do I feel about the AgfaPhoto Vista Plus I’ve shot as b/w so far?

In short, I’m very happy.

I’m sure some will be horrified at the the thought of shooting b/w images without using b/w film. A while ago I was!

But for my level of photography (enthusiastic amateur), and my limited budget, Vista Plus is looking a very workable option for shooting b/w.

I’m not going to pore over my older images shot with Kodak TMax or TX and compare contrast, grain or anything else, because I’m happy with how the Vista Plus images are.

Plus again, TMax or TX now would cost me £15 a roll to buy and process compared with £4 for VistaPlus. And for someone who loves using film cameras as much as I do, I’m not about to cut my shooting rate in quarter.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Have you tried anything similar, shooting colour film as b/w and converting? 

Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

 

New Experimental Vistas – Exposure Bracketing

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO200

With a typical ISO200 colour negative film, you’ll only get worthwhile results if you expose it perfectly at box speed, correct?

I decided to test this theory with a recent experiment.

The film I chose was AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200. This film is rebranded Fuji C200, their cheapest film, which I prefer to the more expensive Superia 200. It’s also available under other guises, like TudorColor XLX200.

The reason I chose Vista Plus 200 is it’s the cheapest and most widely available film for me.

I have three Poundland stores within about 15 miles, and all sell Vista Plus for £1 a roll. Combining this with processing in my local Asda – which I do four rolls at a time for £12.50 to develop and scan to CD – makes film photography affordable.

Buying the film, shooting it, then having it processed and scanned like this works out at £4.13 a roll.

Fortunately, Vista Plus 200 is a very forgiving film and very respectable results (in my eyes) can be gained.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO200

For this specific experimental roll I had two main aims. 

First, to shoot the same composition at box speed (ISO200), one stop over (ISO100) and one stop under (ISO400), to see what the differences were in the final image.

Part of the reason for this is that I’ve not found an ISO400 colour film I like very much.

In lower light, and with compact cameras with autoexposure, in theory a faster film will encourage the camera to use a smaller aperture an therefore produce sharper images with a greater depth of field.

At the other end, shooting at ISO100 should force such cameras to use a larger aperture, and increase depth of field, when that was required.

Of course this is only relevant for cameras with some kind of manual ISO control. For auto DX coding cameras, they’ll always shoot a standard roll of DX coded film as box speed, unless they have some kind of exposure compensation control, like some of the excellent late Pentax Espios for example.

The second, slightly lesser, aim of this experiment was to see how Vista Plus looks in black and white.

The motivation is again cost. Even cheap b/w film like Fomapan is still around £3.50 – £4 a roll, and processing is the best part of £10 per roll. A total of £13+ per film makes it too expensive for me, especially when shooting and processing the Vista Plus is a third of the cost.

Yes, I could just shoot one third as many rolls as I do, for the same overall spend, but I currently love shooting film too much to cut down that drastically!

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO400, desaturated to b/w

For this venture I turned to my trusty Contax 167MT.

The MT is a fierce yet beautiful picture taking machine, with reliable exposures, continuous shooting and auto bracketing.

I set the camera to shoot at +1, 0, -1, ie one stop over exposed, box speed, and one stop under exposed. The lens was an M42 mount Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4, via an M42 > C/Y adapter, a recent lens purchase that I know is capable of beautiful images.

The results were interesting.

What I did first was go through the scans and pick my favourite of the three shots for each composition. This has little scientific basis, it was simply the photograph I was most pleased with the look of.

Of my eight favourites (24 exposure roll / 3 shots per composition), five were at ISO100, one stop overexposed, two were at box speed, ISO200, and only one was at ISO400, one stop underexposed.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO100

What can I take from this experiment?

A few things.

First, that Vista Plus looks more than acceptable shot a stop either side of box speed.

This is no shock, as according to the DX code on the canister, its exposure latitude is +3/-1. It’s a great film to use when shooting without a light meter at all.

In practice this means I can shoot Vista Plus all year round.

In the summer I can shoot at ISO100, when the top shutter speed of a camera might otherwise max out. In winter, at ISO400, so as to be able to shoot handheld at 1/15s, when 1/8s at ISO200 would probably, and 1/4s at ISO100 most definitely, result in camera shake.

Second, the look of Vista Plus at ISO400 is comparable to, and in most cases better than any colour negative ISO400 film I’ve used.

As with native ISO400 film, shooting Vista Plus at ISO400 results in a little more grain and more muted colours. So there’s no need to buy this more expensive film when I can use Vista Plus.

Third, I have more creative control over the look of the photographs, all with one film. 

If I want the most saturated colours, shoot at ISO100.

For more subdued colours and more visible grain, rate the film at ISO400.

Anything in between, just shoot at box speed, ISO200.

Fourth, desaturated to black and white, Vista Plus makes an more than usable alternative to “proper” b/w film. 

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO200, desaturated to b/w

The last half a dozen rolls of b/w film I’ve used have been CN films – Ilford XP2 Super, Kodak BW400CN and Fuji Neopan 400CN. All of these can be processed as C41 colour film, but they tend to cost £4-6 per roll to purchase, more than the cheapest proper b/w film like Fomapan.

The b/w shots I’ve shared in this post are simply colour ones that I’ve desaturated.

They were not originally intended as b/w shots, so the compositions, contrasts and textures aren’t necessarily what I’d choose if I was shooting b/w.

Hopefully though you will get some indication how Vista Plus looks as b/w, and make your judgement on whether it’s something you like.

At some point I will shoot a whole roll as if I was shooting b/w and see how that goes.

The next experiment.

I plan to repeat this experiment with my Contax 167MT shooting at +1, 0, -1 exposure again, but this time starting with ISO100 as the base value.

So in effect I’ll be shooting ISO50, ISO100 and ISO200. As I mentioned, Vista Plus has a latitude of +3/-1 so this should present no problems, I’m just curious to see how ISO50 comes out compared with ISO100 and ISO200.

Maybe I’ll even try another roll beginning with ISO50, so I get ISO25, ISO50 and ISO100 results. Again this is within the film’s published tolerance, I’m just intrigued at how it behaves as it’s further over exposed.

Finally, a few samples from the roll next to each other so you can see a direct comparison, and draw your own conclusions. 

Above three shots – Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 shot at, from top to bottom, ISO100, ISO200, ISO400.

Above three shots – Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 shot at, from top to bottom, ISO100, ISO200, ISO400.

Have you experimented with shooting with different exposure settings on the same roll of film?

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

The Three Faces of Expired Film Photography

“Using expired film is risky, foolish and virtually always ends in disappointing, unappealing photographs, so why bother?”

This might be the kind of advice you hear from some quarters, but it’s certainly not been my experience, very far from it.

In fact, over the last three or four years, I’d estimate over 80% of the 35mm film I’ve shot has been expired.

In my experience with expired film, it tends to go one of three ways –

1. It looks indistinguishable from fresh film, possibly slightly more saturated.

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Pentax MX, Auto Chinon 50mm f/1.7 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 film expired 2010
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Canon Sure Shot Tele, 40mm f/2.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film
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Pentax Spotmatic F, Auto Chinon 55mm f/1.7 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film
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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

2. It produces interesting colour shifts, sometimes purples and greens, but also amber tones.

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Minolta X-700, Minolta MD 28mm f/2.8 lens, Truprint FG+200 film expired 2006
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Contax 139 Quartz, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, York Photo 100 expired film
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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm lens, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film
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Contax 139 Quartz, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, York Photo 100 expired film

3. It looks washed out, overly grainy and lacking in contrast and detail.

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Pentax ES, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Solution VX200 expired film
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Fujica ST701, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Solution VX200 expired film

The high proportion of rolls that end up as 1 and 2 for me outweigh the disappointment of the few that turn out like 3.

Of the expired film I’ve shot, only maybe one roll in every 12 turns out poorly.

Recently it’s been even less than that.

Here are the basic guidelines I follow to ensure I get often pleasing and frequently delightful results using expired film – 

1. Stick to colour negative film.

Modern colour negative film is very robust, and most consumer film has a fantastic latitude of around -1/+3. This means you can under expose by a stop or over expose by three stops, and still get very decent results.

It follows, by my logic, that even if it’s expired and you follow the general rule of thumb that film loses sensitivity by one stop every decade, there’s still plenty of flexibility there, before the film will start to struggle.

2. Use only ISO100 and ISO200 film.

Following on from the above point, these films are very tolerant. The faster the film, the faster it deteriorates.

I don’t bother using expired ISO400 film any more as I’ve been disappointed far more often than not. But with ISO200 and ISO100 they’re rarely a let down.

3. Stay within ten years expired, or less. 

The older the film, the more it will have deteriorated, so the greater the risk it will be grainy, washed out and low contrast.

If you stay within 5-10 years expired, there’s little chance the film has significantly lost any quality. Especially in the UK, where most unused film is sitting in the back of a cool drawer or cupboard, and not in sunlight or heat, which rapidly increase the rate of deterioration.

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Konica AutoReflex T, Hexanon 52mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film expired 2003

These simple guidelines work for me, and I enjoy the results I get from expired film.

If you like some of the samples above, feel free to follow these suggestions and experiment with expired film yourself – especially if you never have before for fear it’s guaranteed to end in disaster.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

How I Shoot Film Simply Without A Light Meter

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Fujica ST701, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 expired film

Whilst many of my favourite cameras are electronic and require batteries to do anything, not just meter (hello Contax 139 Quartz, 159MM and 167MT!), I own half a dozen others that are fully mechanical and either require a battery just for the meter, or have no meter at all.

A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have thought it possible that I could use a camera without a light meter.

How would I have even the faintest clue how to set so many crucial manual controls – focus, aperture and shutter speed – to ensure I got any photographs at all, let alone reasonably exposed ones?

You’ve probably felt a similar anxiety and gone running back to the comforting security of Programmed AutoExposure modes.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 expired film

Then, maybe a year ago I ventured out using a compact digital camera on aperture priority mode as a light meter.

I’d set the ISO of the digital camera to the same as the film I was using, the aperture of the digital to the same as my film camera (a Zorki-4 or Fed-3 at the time), then read the shutter speed from the screen when I pointed it at what I wanted to photograph. Then I changed the shutter speed on the film camera to the same as the digital, composed and shot.

This worked, and gave me reasonable results, but it felt very long winded going through this process for every single shot.

Plus it was clumsy trying to switch between two cameras and not drop one or both of them.

More importantly, this complication fundamentally rallied against the simple joy and escapism from the modern world I gain from using vintage cameras.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 expired film

Later still I used a Light Meter app on my phone, which was quicker, more portable and more flexible. And gave great results.

But again, I didn’t like metering for every shot, or flicking between the phone and camera. Plus once again using a new digital device to meter kind of spoiled that timeless mood and experience of using vintage all mechanical and battery less cameras.

Being a fan of simplicity and minimalism, I finally decided to take the plunge, ditch the light meter(s) and try metering on my own, based on the Sunny 16 rule.

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Minolta SR-1s, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55mm f/1.7 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

I’ve simplified and adapted along the way, so here is my current method for metering with as little interruption to that wonderful flow of using vintage cameras as possible…

  1. Set the camera’s default shutter speed.For the Sunny 16 method, you set the shutter speed to the reciprocal of the ISO you want to shoot the film at. If it’s fresh film this might be box speed, but I generally shoot expired colour negative film and like to lean towards overexposing. So for ISO200 film, where I would shoot it at ISO125 in a camera with its own meter, I set the shutter speed to 1/125s.
  2. Decide and set the default aperture.I use the Sunny 16 rule as a starting point, but living in England we never really enjoy Sunny 16 strength sunshine. So I change it to Sunny 11. In other words, in the brightest conditions when it’s sunny and there’s not a cloud in the sky, set the aperture to f/11. If it’s hazy sun, use f/8, overcast f/5.6, heavy overcast f/4.
  3. Compose, focus, shoot.I think you know this part already.

If/ when the lighting conditions change as you’re shooting, for example a sudden descent of cloud cover, or you move into a very shady area from a bright sunny one, just change your aperture accordingly, as outlined in step 2 above.

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Minolta SR-1s, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55mm f/1.7 lens, TudorColor XLX200 expired film

A way of simplifying this method even further is to make an assessment of the average light conditions at the start, add a stop maybe (I always lean towards over exposure, more on that below), “set and forget” your camera, and get on with enjoying shooting.

So for a day which is slightly overcast, with ISO200 film you want to shoot at ISO125, set the shutter speed to 1/125, and the aperture to f/5.6 (two stops under the min f/11 for bright sunny conditions). Then put the settings out of your mind and go and enjoy photographing.

(I would estimate that on such a day I will shoot 80% or more of the shots on the roll of film at those default settings of 1/125s and f/5.6 without touching either dial.)

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Minolta SR-1s, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55mm f/1.7 lens, TudorColor XLX200 expired film

Sometimes you might want more creative control than staying at one shutter speed and aperture.

So here are some simple tips, using our default starting point above of 1/125s and f/5.6 on a slightly cloudy day.

If you want greater depth of field – Decrease the aperture to f/8 or f/11 and take the shutter speed down to 1/60s or 1/30s to compensate.

If you want shallow depth of field – Increase your aperture to f/4, f/2.8 or f/2, and adjust the shutter speed in line – 1/250s, 1/500s or 1/1000s respectively.

If you want to freeze movement, like people walking – Set your shutter speed a stop or two faster than your default 1/125s, to 1/250s or 1/500s, and open up the aperture accordingly to f/4 or f/2.8.

If you want some ghostly motion blur – Take the shutter speed the other way – 1/60s, 1/30s and 1/15s will need an aperture decrease from your default f/5.6 to f/8, f/11 or f/16 respectively.

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Kiev 2A, Jupiter-8 50mm f/2 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

It turns out that shooting without a meter is not that hard after all. 

A crucial reason for this is the latitude of the film I use. What latitude means is the amount you can over or under expose the film, and still get usable results.

Most consumer colour negative films I use like AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 (rebranded FujiColor C200), Kodak Color Plus 200, Ferranis Solaris 200 and Fuji Superia 100 have a very forgiving latitude. 

You can see what it is exactly by looking at the DX code on the film canister and using a guide like this.

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Kiev 2A, Jupiter-8 50mm f/2 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

But a general rule, most of these consumer colour negative films can be under exposed by one stop, and over exposed by three stops (let’s abbreviate this to -1 / +3).

This is partly why I lean (fairly heavily) towards overexposing. 

In practice, what this -1 / +3 latitude means, is that if at 1/125s the optimum aperture is f/11, I can still get a very usable photograph if I shoot at an aperture of f/16 (-1), f/8 (+1), f/5.6 (+2) or f/4 (+3).

Put another way, this same scene can be shot with very reasonable results at 1/125s and any aperture between f/4 and f/16!

That’s very forgiving indeed.

Or, if you were to fix the aperture for this same scene at f/11, and the optimum shutter speed was 1/125s, it means you could still get decent pictures using a shutter speed anywhere between 1/250s (-1) and 1/15s (+3).

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Kiev 2A, Helios-103 53mm f/1.8 lens, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

With the basic starting point taken from using Sunny 16 (or in my case Sunny 11) and the confidence the -1/+3 latitude of colour negative film gives me, I can set my camera up before I start shooting, then virtually forget the settings and enjoy the pure, simple pleasure of using a camera in the same way it was used a generation or two or three before me.

And for me, photography doesn’t really get much more special or rewarding than that. 

What is your experience of shooting without a light meter? Let me know below.

If you’ve never tried it before I strongly urge to grab some colour negative film and get out there. You’ll be amazed at what you can do without a battery, needle or LED in sight, and just how it enriches the whole photographic experience.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

Gathering For The Winter (Spring, Summer, Autumn)

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With the range of available 35mm film on the whole reducing, I’m always keen to stock up on my favourite emulsions.

My freezer contains an ever dwindling supply of Ferrania Solaris 200 and Solution VX200, both of which are now difficult to source and I’m virtually all out of Kodak ColorPlus 200.

Stocks of AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 (rebranded FujiColor C200, which I’ve also shot extensively rebranded as Tudorcolor XLX 200) remain healthy though, and I expect this to continue to be the film I shoot with most.

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Recently I’ve come across the opportunity to purchase some expired FujiFilm Superia 100, a film I’ve only used a roll of two of before, but with really lovely results, as shared here.

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Because it’s slower film, and therefore deteriorates more slowly, I’m not concerned at using decade expired film. I’ve seen fabulous results from others using similarly expired Superia 100 also.

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Superia 400 of this age I would be far more careful with buying and using, being two stops faster, ie four times more sensitive to light, than ISO 100 film.

I have another batch of Superia 100 on the way, of much fresher vintage (circa 2012), so in the coming months (and years) I expect to use plenty of this delightful film…

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The future in my film world at least, belongs to FujiFilm…